Many young people have watched “The West Wing;” John Oxtoby is one of the few who has actually worked in it. In a political career that begins with Barack Obama’s Senate race in 2004 and culminated with policy responsibilities in the White House, John has seen the challenges and the rewards, the triumphs and the compromises of the public sector first hand. “It’s a roller coaster of emotions,” he says, reflecting on the challenges the Obama Administration faced governing in turbulent times. “I feel very fortunate to have served in government at such a critical juncture in our country’s history.”
Under Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett’s leadership, John fulfilled roles with the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, chaired by Paul Volker, and the Jobs Council, chaired by GE CEO Jeff Immelt. “On the economic policy side,” says John, "I worked with business leaders from small business owners to Fortune 500 CEOs to make sure their ideas and voices were heard."
Turning best policy ideas into reality
Although John had “an amazing experience in government,” he wanted to “complement my public sector work with a deeper understanding of business and marketing fundamentals.” In addition, an MBA would help John better coordinate the efforts of public and private players. “While the Jobs Council is a good example of supporting public/private partnerships, ultimately a robust economy requires business leaders to work effectively with the public sector to respond to new and innovative ideas. I want to learn how the private sector can take ideas and turn them into reality.”
For a variety of reasons, HBS became John’s business school of choice. “A number of my Jobs Council colleagues who had attended HBS shared stories about how the case method helped them develop and grow,” he says. “Coming from a less common background, I really value the diversity of backgrounds and experiences at HBS. Every industry and part of the world is represented here.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, “Through the U.S. Competitiveness Project, HBS has become the leader in thinking about U.S. competitiveness. No other school has done similar deep thinking on these issues.”
Looking ahead, John sees himself eventually returning to public service. But when he does, he intends to bring private sector perspectives gained from career experiences after graduation. At present, John is advising the movie “The Butler,” based on the true experiences of an African-American butler who served in the White House through the crucial civil rights years between the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations. Starring Forest Whittaker (with whom John campaigned during Obama’s first presidential run), the movie is scheduled for release in Fall 2013. “It tells the civil rights story through the perspectives of two different generations,” John explains, “the butler’s son who takes a more radical approach, and the butler himself who holds a job with ‘no tolerance for politics’ or expression of personal beliefs.”